Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Mass Arrests in DC: We Shall No Longer Be Crucified Upon the Cross of Coal

Mass Arrests in DC: We Shall No Longer Be Crucified Upon the Cross of Coal

by Jeff Biggers
Over one hundred protesters from the Appalachian coalfields were arrested in front of the White House today, defiantly calling on the Obama administration to abolish mountaintop removal mining. As part of the Appalachia Rising events, the coalfield residents took part in a multi-day series of events to bring the escalating human rights, environmental and health care crisis to the nation's capitol.
Kentuckians for the Commonwealth leaders Teri Blanton and Mickey McCoy, the first arrested in today's nonviolent act of civil disobedience, were joined by allies from around the country, including NASA climatologist James Hansen. Meanwhile, protesters led by the legendary Rev. Billy Talen staged a nearby sit-in at the office of the PNC bank, which remains one of the last major financiers of coal companies engaged in this extreme form of strip-mining in Appalachia.
In a stark reminder of the national connection to the coalfields, the Obama administration officials looked on from their White House offices, as their electricity came from a coal-fired plant generated partly with coal stripmined from Appalachia.
As a litmus test of the administration's commitment to science and the rule of law, Appalachian residents are calling on the EPA to halt any new permit on the upcoming decision over the massive Spruce mountaintop removal mine.
Mountaintop removal coal only provides, in fact, less than 10 percent of all coal production.
Fed up with the regulatory crisis and circumventions by outside coal companies, coalfield residents have been rising up against reckless strip-mining practices against the country, from Alaska to Alabama to Arizona.
In southern Illinois, scores of black crosses were found at coal mines, strip mines, coal-fired plants, coal ash piles, and at the Southern Illinois University Coal Research Center.
Citing Illinois as the birthplace of the coal industry, and "ground zero in the Obama administration's plan to dangerously experiment with carbon capture and storage technologies for coal-fired plants," a new Black Cross Alliance campaign announced plans to construct symbolic black crosses at coal mining and coal-burning landmarks in the state and across the nation to serve as a public warning: It is no longer acceptable for the Obama administration--and state and regional government officials---to be complicit in maintaining deadly coal mining and coal-burning communities as shameful national sacrifice areas in 2010.
Invoking William Jennings Bryan's "Cross of Gold" speech, the Black Cross Alliance called on the Obama administration and the state of Illinois to halt billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies for multinational coal corporations, and bring an end to the scandalous coal wars in Illinois by re-investing in a sustainable clean energy policy for the future for the coalfield regions.
The Black Cross Alliance declared: You shall not crucify us any longer upon a cross of coal.
"While the rest of the nation--and world--launches into the exploding new global market of clean energy development and green jobs," the Black Cross Alliance asked, "why have the coalfield regions in the country been left out of the renewnable energy movement and slated for a new generation of increased coal production?"
For more updates on Appalachia Rising, see: www.appalachiarising.org

Sinking the Heartland

Citizens Against Longwall Mining (C.A.L.M.) express concerns about efforts to mine coal from under their properties in Montgomery County, Illinois. The central and southern part of the state is rich with coal that is now being sought by coal companies. Longwall mining will cause the land to drop by 4 - 6 feet, thus destroying the productivity of some of the richest farmland in the world.

More than 100 Arrested at White House Demanding End to Mountaintop Remova

More than 100 Arrested at White House Demanding End to Mountaintop Removal

Monday, September 27th, 2010
posted by lacymacauley

Appalachia Rising saw supporters both old and young. Hazel (front) was one of the youngest supporters in the streets, in front of the White House! About 100 were arrested at the White House. 4 were arrested at PNC bank calling for an end to mountaintop removal coal mining.
Dr. James Hansen, Appalachian residents and retired coal miners arrested calling for abolition of mountaintop mining and immediate veto of Spruce mine project

 WASHINGTON DC —More than 100 people were arrested today during Appalachia Rising, the largest national protest to end mountaintop removal (MTR) coal mining. Arrests included Appalachian residents; retired coal miners; renowned climate scientist, James Hansen; and faith leaders. After a march from Freedom Plaza and a rally at Lafayette Park, more than 100 stage a sit-in in front of the White House to demand President Obama follow his own science and end mountaintop mining. The likely charge is obstruction.
In addition to the non-violent civil disobedience at the White House, four people were arrested during a sit-in at PNC bank for protesting the bank’s role as the lead U.S. financier of MTR.
“The science is clear, mountaintop removal destroys historic mountain ranges, poisons water supplies and pollutes the air with coal and rock dust,” said renowned climate scientist James Hansen, who was arrested in today’s protest at the White House. “Mountaintop removal, providing only a small fraction of our energy, can and should be abolished. The time for half measures and caving in to polluting industries must end.”

About 2,000 people, led Appalachian residents, marched in the street to call for an end to mountaintop removal. Photo: Friends of the Earth (C)
Appalachia Rising is being led by residents of West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee – Appalachian states directly impacted by mountaintop removal. They are calling for the Obama Administration to immediately abolish the practice of blowing up mountains and dumping the debris into nearby streams and valleys to reach seams of coal.

“I have talked, begged, debated, written letters to officials, published op-ed pieces in newspapers and lobbied on the state and federal level to end mountaintop removal,” said Mickey McCoy, former mayor and lifelong resident of Inez, Kentucky, who was also arrested today.  “Being arrested? That’s such a small price to pay for being heard. My home and people are paying the real price for mountaintop removal. They are dying.”
The tide has been turning on mountaintop removal with Appalachian residents, scientists, congressional representatives and environmentalists decrying the practice as coming at too high a cost to public health, land, water and taxpayers. Last April, in response to resounding opposition to mountaintop removal, the EPA announced new guidelines for permitting mountaintop removal valley fills. However, the impacts of mountaintop removal mining are so destructive that Appalachia Rising is calling on the administration to end the practice altogether by halting active mines and creating a permanent moratorium on new permits.
As a step in the right direction, groups have called on the EPA to immediately veto the Spruce No. 1 Mine project, which would be one of the largest strip-mining operations in Appalachia. The EPA is set to make a decision in the coming weeks on whether to reverse the Corps of Engineers’ 2007 approval for the mine. With mountaintop removal becoming increasingly controversial, the EPA’s decision on the 2,278-acre Spruce project is being closely watched as a sign of the mining practice’s future.
“We know, and the Obama Administration has said, that mountaintop removal mining is bad for human health and the environment,” says Jane Branham of the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards in VA.  “The issue here is whether President Obama will follow the science and do something about it now!”
A dozen leading scientists published a paper in the journal Science in January 2009, concluding that mountaintop removal is so destructive that the government should stop giving out new permits altogether. “The science is so overwhelming that the only conclusion that one can reach is that mountaintop mining needs to be stopped,” said Margaret Palmer, a professor at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences and the study’s lead author.
Mountaintop removal is a radical form of coal mining in which up to 800 feet, sometimes more, of densely forested mountaintops are literally blown up to reach thin coal seams. The resulting millions of tons of rock are dumped into surrounding valleys and rivers, polluting the headwaters that provide drinking water to millions of Americans. Already, 500 mountains and 2,000 miles of streams have been lost due to this devastating mining practice. A 2009 report estimated that coal mining costs Appalachia five times more in premature deaths than it provides the region in jobs, taxes and other economic benefits.

Appalachia Rising up in DC

Updated: New Photos
Appalachians live but a few hours drive from our nation's capitol, much closer than most of the country, and yet their voices are so seldom heard here. Maybe it has something to do with the hillbilly reputation. And maybe, because their voices are so seldom heard here, they've become prime targets for reckless industrial practices like mountaintop removal coal mining, or MTR.
Today, thousands of Appalachians and concerned citizens are trying to change that, by taking to the streets in DC with all the fierce determination and creative enthusiasm that the steep Appalachian mountains engender. Today Appalachia is rising up to demand an end to mountaintop removal coal mining.

The action's already started - check out these pictures from an early morning occupation of the Army Corp of engineers building.
There's no one person that can put an end to MTR - it takes a team. The US Army Corps of engineers directly approves permits for the practice, granting companies like Massey and Peabody the 'rights' to bury over 2000 miles of head-water streams and blow the tops off 450 mountains. But they use standards set by the EPA, which determine what the acceptable levels of pollution and stream destruction are. The politics are set by the Obama administration - how to balance justice for the Appalachian people with the ever-shrinking but significant number of coal mining jobs, with the political power of coal company war-chests grown fat from years of raping the land?

Appalachia Rising is intended to make that choice easier for them. Over the weekend 700 Appalachian residents, retired coal miners, faith leaders, scientists, artists and students crammed into the Georgetown conference center (a bit of a shock for the usual Georgetown residents) and learned how to take down MTR. Today, the vision of Appalachian's like Bo Webb and Judy Bonds and many more will be realized - an uprising in a long Appalachian tradition of plucky determination, transplanted directly to the heart of DC.
From the press release:

"I have talked, begged, debated, written letters to officials, published op-ed pieces in newspapers and lobbied on the state and federal level to end mountaintop removal," said Mickey McCoy, former mayor and lifelong resident of Inez, Kentucky. "Being arrested? That's such a small price to pay for being heard. My home and people are paying the real price for mountaintop removal. They are dying." Appalachia Rising is being led by residents of West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee
- Appalachian states directly impacted by mountaintop removal. They are calling for the Obama
Administration to immediately abolish the practice of blowing up mountains and dumping the
debris into nearby streams and valleys to reach seams of coal.
"It is past time for the Obama Administration to abolish the practice of mountaintop removal coal mining. It is killing off our culture and its people," said Maria Gunnoe of Boone County, W.Va. who works with the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. "It is time to turn coal country into clean energy country. Who better to build the infrastructure to repower America than the people who powered it to begin with? We can build a new future starting now and starting in Appalachia, and starting with an end to mountaintop removal."
There will be continuous updates at Appalachiarising.org and follow @App_Rising.
Follow Morgan Goodwin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mogmaar

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About the 2010 ASES National Solar Tour

Event Date: Saturday, October 2, 2010 (in most areas)
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Join Ed Begley, Jr., Author of "Living Like Ed: A Guide to the Eco-Friendly Life", in supporting the ASES National Solar Tour!
The ASES National Solar Tour is the world's largest grassroots solar event. This event offers you the opportunity to tour innovative green homes and buildings to see how you can use solar energy, energy efficiency, and other sustainable technologies to reduce monthly utility bills and help tackle climate change. More than 160,000 participants will visit some 5,500 buildings in 3,200 communities across the U.S.
Now in its 15th year, this event is coordinated nationally by the nonprofit American Solar Energy Society in collaboration with dozens of outstanding partner organizations. It takes place annually during the first Saturday in October in conjunction with National Energy Awareness Month.
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September 24, 2010
 Although the official date for the ASES National Solar Tour is October 2nd there are many tours occurring this weekend- be sure to look under the "Find a tour" tab on this web page to see when a tour is taking place in YOUR community- bring the family, neighbor or friend and celebrate the many benefits of going solar.

Three new solar videos!

August 31, 2010
Check it out!  There are three great solar videos posted in the National Solar Tour video gallery, http://nationalsolartour.org/video.

Miners settle, avoid long trial

Miners settle, avoid long trial...

Miners settle, avoid long trial

By Stephanie Taylor Staff Writer
Published: Tuesday, September 28, 2010 at 3:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, September 27, 2010 at 10:34 p.m.
TUSCALOOSA | More than 1,000 miners who filed suit against several companies have reached a settlement, avoiding a jury trial that could have lasted up to four months.

The Case
It was originally filed in 2001 by 
1,394 miners and former miners 
who claimed they were exposed to 
the dangerous chemical isocyanate.
The terms of the settlement are confidential and will not be made public.
The settlement concludes the case originally filed in 2001 by 1,394 miners and former miners who claimed they were exposed to the dangerous chemical isocyanate, which is found in products used to strengthen mine walls and ceilings.
There were around a dozen defendants originally, from product manufacturers and owners of mines where the chemical was used. Jim Walter Resources Inc., which operates mines in Tuscaloosa County, was one of the original defendants. 
Yellow ribbons wave at Jim Walter Resources Blue Creek No. 5 Mine in 2003 in remembrance of the 13 miners killed on Sept. 23, 2001. The miners who died on Sept. 23, 2001, were: Gaston E. Adams Jr., Raymond F. Ashworth, Nelson Banks Jr., David L. Blevins, Clarence H. Boyd, Wendell R. Johnson, John W. Knox, Dennis R. Mobley, Charles J. Nail, Sammy Joe Riggs, Charles E. Smith, Joseph P. Sorah and Terry M. Stewart.
Dow Chemical Co. and Flexible Products Co. reached a settlement with the plaintiffs last week, the last two companies to reach an agreement.
The settlement came after an unusually long jury selection process. Attorneys took four weeks to narrow a pool of hundreds of potential jurors to a 16-person jury.
To accommodate the large number of people, jury selection took place in the Bama Theater near the courthouse.
Tuscaloosa County Circuit Judge John England told the jury Monday morning that the case had been settled and was concluded.
“I have not been a part of a case wherein a citizen served on a jury for four weeks and not heard one minute of testimony,” he told the jurors. “You’ve done something
extraordinarily unique in the state of Alabama.”
England presided over the jury selection, which involved days of questioning the pool and showing slides of all 1,394 plaintiffs to establish whether anyone knew the miners involved. 

“We were totally shocked, we didn’t see that coming,” juror Peggy Baggett said as she left the courthouse at 10 a.m. “We came in this morning ready to hear testimony.”
Baggett and other jurors had expected the trial to last three to four months and had been told little about the case.
Most of the plaintiffs claimed that they suffered from occupational asthma caused by isocyanate exposure. Isocyanate is combined with polyurethane to create a foam. Exposure to products containing the chemical can irritate mucous membranes of the eyes, gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Direct contact can cause skin inflammation and exposure can make people more prone to severe asthma attacks. Death from severe asthma attacks in some people exposed to isocyanates has been reported, according to the CDC.
Three cases were originally filed in the Bessemer division of Jefferson County Circuit Court, but were later consolidated and moved to Tuscaloosa County Circuit Court in 2007.
The suit claimed that the companies violated the Hazard Communication Standard contained in the Occupational Health and Safety Act, guidelines set by the American National Standards Institute and the federal Toxic Substances Control Act.
The miners also claimed that the defendants committed fraud by willfully misrepresenting, concealing or suppressing the truth about the dangers of the product, that the companies engaged in a civil conspiracy and destroyed data that demonstrated the effects of exposure to the chemical. 

They sought compensatory and punitive damages for physical pain and suffering, mental anguish, medical expenses, loss of income, inability to work, permanent injuries and disabilities and aggravation of pre-existing conditions that the miners allegedly suffered as a result of using the substance.
Reach Stephanie Taylor at
news.com or 205-722-0210.


Sunday, September 26, 2010

It's no joke; strip mine could get OK near drinking water source

 Did you hear the one about the big coal company that wanted to put a strip mine across the river from a drinking water intake valve?

There's no punch line because it only sounds like a bad joke. It's really no joke at all. Rather, it is a serious threat to our health, our economy and our river.
Photo by Nelson Brooke, Black Warrior RIVERKEEPER

The water intake can be seen in the right middle of the photo.

Photo by Nelson Brooke, Black Warrior RIVERKEEPER

What could be more reckless and shortsighted than to knowingly pollute our own drinking water?
We are told it will benefit the economy. Some of the poorest states, including Alabama, are being ripped open and polluted by the coal industry because it's "good for the economy." Well, after decades of strip mining, those states are still poor, and their land, their mountains, their wells and their rivers are a sickly mess. Pollution and destruction of the land that supports us are the demons of strip mining. Alabama deserves, and should demand, better.
If the cancerous spread of Alabama strip mines is allowed into Shepherd Bend, that's another chunk of Alabama the Beautiful chewed up and spit out, along with the communities that rely on it for clean drinking water. We cannot allow this to happen.
Shame on the University of Alabama for sacrificing its land and our water to rapacious strip mining. Shame on the Alabama Department of Environmental Management for permitting Drummond Coal Co. to discharge wastewater into the Mulberry Fork of the Black Warrior River. The fact that the discharge points are across the river from the intake valve for Birmingham drinking water is unconscionable.
In a few weeks, the Alabama Surface Mining Commission will decide whether to grant a permit for a strip mine at Shepherd Bend. The commission needs to hear from you.
On behalf of Wild South, which represents hundreds of people potentially affected by this project, I oppose this permit and the proposed mine in general. I stand with those who support and fight for the preservation of Alabama's rivers and streams and sustainable, clean energy. And I stand with the people of Cordova who have a dream of building a local economy based on intact, healthy ecosystems and the amazing natural beauty of their home land.
You should, too. Contact the Alabama Surface Mining Commission (asmc@asmc.alabama.gov) and the University of Alabama.
Janice Barrett
Wild South

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Brookwood to remember miners lost in 2001 explosion

Brookwood to remember miners lost in 2001 explosion

Yellow ribbons wave at Jim Walter Resources Blue Creek No. 5 Mine in 2003 in remembrance of the 13 miners killed on Sept. 23, 2001. The miners who died on Sept. 23, 2001, were: Gaston E. Adams Jr., Raymond F. Ashworth, Nelson Banks Jr., David L. Blevins, Clarence H. Boyd, Wendell R. Johnson, John W. Knox, Dennis R. Mobley, Charles J. Nail, Sammy Joe Riggs, Charles E. Smith, Joseph P. Sorah and Terry M. Stewart.
By James T. McConatha Special to The Tuscaloosa News
Published: Thursday, September 23, 2010 at 3:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, September 22, 2010 at 11:27 p.m.
BROOKWOOD | Tammy Hutchins still remembers the day that 13 miners died in explosions at Jim Walter Resources Blue Creek No. 5 Mine in 2001. It was a Sunday evening, Sept. 23, and her husband, the Rev. Vic Hutchins of West Brookwood Church, was at the pulpit.

Memorial planned today
Joe Main, the assistant secretary of labor for the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, will be the guest speaker today at the ninth annual miners' memorial service in Brookwood.
The service is open to the public.
The service will remember the 13 miners who died in a 2001 underground coal mine explosion at Jim Walter Resources Blue Creek No. 5 Mine in Brookwood.
The Rev. Gary Youngblood will officiate the service, which will be at the Miners' Memorial Monument at West Brookwood Church, 12882 Lock 17 Road, Brookwood.
Pre-service music will begin at 4 p.m. The memorial service will start at
5 p.m.
“(Vic) just stopped,” Tammy Hutchins said. “He just sort of looked down and turned his page, and we all just looked at each other across the congregation. Nobody said anything. We just knew something (had happened).”
Seconds later, the sirens of rescue vehicles blared outside the church. Not far from the parking lot, an explosion had torn through the No. 5 mine.
The final investigation report, released on Dec. 11, 2002, indicated that the initial explosion was caused by falling debris that had damaged a battery at a charging station in section four of the No. 5 mine. Four miners were injured. One of them, Gaston Adams Jr., could not be moved.
Noble Lynn began working in the No. 5 mine in 1997. He recalls telling his wife about the camaraderie there shortly after transferring in.
“(It was) the best mine I'd ever worked at,” Lynn said. “There was a strong bond there between all of us.”
Jim Walter Resources operates the deepest mines in North America, reaching down more than 2,000 vertical feet. The miners spend a lot of time together.
“As a coal miner, there is nothing in your life that's personal anymore,” said Jeremy Eaton, a fourth-generation coal miner who was born and raised in Brookwood. “It's a family. They look out for one another.”
After the initial explosion, several of the miners began rescue efforts. 

“When one of those people (that you care about) gets hurt or needs help, all you think about is going back to them, going to get them,” said James Blankenship, president of the United Mine Workers of America, local chapter 2245 in Brookwood. “That's what those men did.”
In the 55 minutes that followed the first explosion, 12 miners made their way through the tunnels to section four in a rescue effort. The air was thick with coal dust and dirt, and visibility was extremely low. The ventilation systems in section four had been damaged by the first explosion, allowing highly flammable methane gas to accumulate in the area. At about 6:15 p.m. a second explosion tore through No. 5.
The No. 5 mine, like the other mines at Jim Walter Resources, is constructed with a block light system for each section. The system controls traffic in and out by means of light signals and track switches. Power to operate these systems is transferred by a cable hung alongside the track when a photocell is activated by a miner at either end of the section.
After the first explosion, the cable in Section 4 had come down and been damaged as traffic moved along the tracks. The accumulation of methane and coal dust made the air in Section 4 highly flammable, and a single spark from the block light system would have ignited it.
According to the final investigation report, the block light system is presumed to have caused the second explosion. When the dust settled and heads were counted, 13 miners were missing.
“It's an honor to be a coal miner,” Blankenship said. “To lose a miner hurts. We're all family in the coal mines. We all live that life and we all know that it's dangerous.”

Rescue efforts immediately following the second explosion extracted miner Raymond Ashworth and located the bodies of three others. Ashworth died the next day. The morning of Sept. 24, it was determined that the remaining nine had been fatally injured. Their bodies were not recovered until Nov. 8.

The investigation by the Mine Safety and Health Administration cited Jim Walter Resources for failure to follow federal safety standards and for poor emergency management, but Dennis Hall, director of public relations for Jim Walter Resources, said the issue was much more complex.
“MSHA writes the rules and regulations. They inspect their rules and regulations, and they set the fines. If you'll read (the final rule from the judge) you'll see where MSHA made some mistakes,” Hall said. “Every mine is different and they have different circumstances. It was a terrible, terrible accident. And that's what people need to remember. It was an accident.”

The No. 5 mine is now closed.
Since 2001, MHSA records indicate that six other fatalities have occurred at Jim Walter Resources' mines.
“Every little thing that you can possibly do to improve your odds of surviving that shift, that's what you do,” Lynn said. “Ninety-eight percent is the good Lord watching over you, one percent is fate, and that other one percent is everything that you've done.”
Thomas Wilson, a safety inspector for the United Mine Workers, said, it's important to remember the tragedy of Sept. 23, 2001.
“(We remember) because we don't want these accidents to ever occur again,” he said.
Jim Walter Resources erected a memorial to the 13 miners in 2002.

On the lawn outside of West Brookwood Church, a small brick pathway leads out from the parking lot. At the end, flanked by evergreens, a glossy headstone bears the names of each miner who died that day. 

“The memorial is a tribute to their lives,” Blankenship said. “They are heroes. It's just as if they took a gun and went overseas. They gave their lives for a fallen brother.”
Every year on Sept. 23, a memorial service is held on the church lawn.
Wilson said that the service serves as a reunion for some of the attendees. After the accident, many of the widows and other family members who were left behind moved away. The gathering gives families time for fellowship.
At the close of the service, a candle-light ceremony will be held. Thirteen miners will don cap-lights, like the ones miners work in every day. They turn the lights out one by one and lay evergreen branches on the monument.
The miners have a sense of pride about the work they do, and they do not take the dangerous aspects of their work lightly.
“We furnish over 50 percent of the electricity that keeps these lights burning,” Blankenship said. “It's cheap power and it's because of the coal fields.”
“Coal mining gets in your blood. Coal dust gets in your lungs. It's just part of your body,” he said.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Enthusiasm Gap? Coalfields Rising, Baby (VIDEO)

Jeff Biggers

Posted: September 21, 2010 07:42 AM

There have been a lot of excellent blogs recently on the enthusiasm gap among progressives, Democrats and even the Obama administration, and among climate movement activists in search of a play.
Well, ain't no enthusiasm gap in the coalfields across the nation.
With millions of pounds of ANFO explosives detonating fly rock and toxic silica dust each day, deadly coal slurry and coal ash seeping into their waterways, the creeping threat of forced removal by Big Coal knocking on their doors, and their coal-strangled towns entrenched in poverty, coalfield residents share a profound sense of urgency.
Exactly one year ago, I wrote about the "coalfield uprising" based in Appalachia, where a determined campaign of citizen lobbyists, coal miners, and environmental groups sought to convince the Obama administration to abolish mountaintop removal.

Well, that didn't work, so the uprising is now a-rising: Appalachia Rising. And it's coming to Washington, DC on September 27th.
Coalfield residents are no longer afraid of Big Coal and their PR fronts or their bankrolled politicians. And they're fed up with shouldering -- like coal miners -- the staggering human and environmental costs for our nation's dirty energy policy.
As I understand it, Appalachian coalfield residents and their allies are coming to DC next week with one main demand: Decades of Big Coal circumventions and regulatory machinations and stacks of scientific studies on irreversible destruction have clearly shown that mountaintop removal and strip-mining must be abolished, not regulated.
After the EPA's new guidance rules on mountaintop removal operations drew national press last spring, the federal agency's first act two months later was to hand out a mountaintop removal permit. Worse yet, the day after the EPA's mountaintop removal announcement, the feds quietly greenlighted the expansion of the largest strip mine in the West, the Antelope Mine in Wyoming, which will produce more coal than all of West Virginia's mines combined.
Strip-mining is a crime against nature and our communities -- from Appalachia to Alaska -- and it must be ended in every state. Mountaintop removal, in fact, accounts for less than 10 percent of our national coal production.
In my own southern Illinois coalfields, for example, Appalachian firms notorious for mountaintop removal are now expanding strip-mining operations -- a West Virginia coal baron, citing that the low-hanging fruit in the Appalachian coal basin had been picked, is now shifting to the devastating longwall mines in the central Illinois farm counties.
So, coalfields are rising across the nation.

Last week in Birmingham, Alabama, enthusiastic students and concerned citizens took their University of Alabama officials to task for considering a wrongheaded plan to lease land for a strip mine near the Black Warrior River. Fishermen in Alaska recently called on their governor to halt a strip mine from wiping out their livelihood and large sections of river salmon habitats. In Utah, even the normally hesitant National Park Service called on Utah politicians to stop a tourism-busting strip mine from opening down the road from Bryce Canyon National Park.
It's hard to curb your enthusiasm when a 13-million pound dragline monster is heading for your farm or forest to rip out the biggest strip mine in the East -- in Indiana, by the way, not Appalachia.
A few days ago, I sat around the table with a group of farmers and raging grannies in Hillsboro, Illinois, who fiercely debated strategies and tactics on how to get their incompetent state agencies to enforce mining laws and stop the destruction of their farms and homelands from reckless longwall mining.
The Citizens Against Longwall Mining carried out some of the most informed and lively discussions on energy policy I've heard in ages. The wreckage from longwall mining--the process of removing pillars and allowing for subsidence--is emerging as the next nightmare episode in energy extraction from Pennsylvania to the heartland and the America West.
Meanwhile, coalfield residents and their urban allies converged on EPA coal ash hearings in Chicago and Charlotte and Dallas last week with thunderous calls for the federal agency to recognize science and the huge health and human costs, and regulate the toxic residue as hazardous material.
At the same time, the campaign to phase out prehistoric coal-fired plants and launch a just transition in the coalfields for clean energy manufacturing and sustainable economic development has been growing. A green jobs commission now operates on the coal-rich Navajo Nation, as residents waged a herculean campaign to stop the proposed Desert Rock coal-fired plant.
Check out the New Power movement launched this week by the Kentuckians for the Commonwealth. Fed up with political inaction and the stranglehold of Big Coal lobbyists, citizens have come together for a bold new step to put money and volunteer grassroots power behind clean energy candidates.
So, the coalfields are rising -- just as they did in the 1960s and 1970s when a vibrant national movement rose up to abolish strip-mining. That national movement was ultimately betrayed by a lack of coalfield solidarity, activist fatigue and compromises among environmental lobbyists in Washington, DC, leading to the ineffective Surface Mining Reclamation and Control Act of 1977 (SMCRA).
In 1977, the Appalachia Coalition called SMCRA a "blatant travesty."
With the destruction of 500 mountains and one million acres of hardwood forests since then, mountaintop removal has become a blatant tragedy, and Appalachians and their allies from around the country will converge on Washington DC on September 27 to call for its abolition once and for all.
So, cheer up, enthusiasm seekers -- get thee to the coalfields, or Washington, DC for a shot of inspiration.
Here's a clip from the new film documentary, Deep Down, on the resiliency of a coalfield community in eastern Kentucky that defiantly took on the expansion of a mountaintop removal operation:

Jeff Biggers is the author of Reckoning at Eagle Creek: The Secret Legacy of Coal in the Heartland, and The United States of Appalachia.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Protesters voice opposition to strip mine proposal

Protesters voice opposition to strip mine proposal

Members of the Coalition of Alabama Students for the Environment and concerned citizens protest on the corner of University Boulevard and Second Court on Thursday. The group opposes a proposed strip mine that would be near Cordova along the Black Warrior River.
By Wayne Grayson Staff Writer
Published: Friday, September 17, 2010 at 3:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, September 16, 2010 at 11:21 p.m.
TUSCALOOSA | Richard and Dianne Robinson made a 90-minute drive Thursday to protest a proposed strip mine on land owned by the University of Alabama along the Black Warrior River near Cordova.

“We live less than a mile away from a strip mine they just finished,” said Dianne Robinson, 60. “They blasted all during the day, and until about 3 a.m. they run their trucks.
“You couldn’t sleep at night for all the noise.”
The Robinsons joined about 50 other residents and UA students at the corner of University Boulevard and Second Court on the UA campus Thursday afternoon to protest the strip mine proposal.
Protesters were confined to a small “free speech zone” at that intersection, and at one point, one of them yelled, “This side of the rope is America and the other isn’t.”

A subsidiary of the Drummond Co., Jasper-based Shepherd Bend applied for a mining permit from the Alabama Surface Mining Commission in May to strip mine 286 acres off a tributary of the river.
The site of the proposed mine is owned by UA, which sought bids for 1,300 acres of land it owns off Mulberry Fork, a fork of the Black Warrior River.
Residents near the site fear that the project will cripple potential development near Interstate 22, a nearly complete interstate from Birmingham to Memphis with two exits near the community.

They are also concerned that the mine’s wastewater discharges could contaminate the water in Mulberry Fork, which provides drinking water for more than 200,000 Birmingham Water Works customers. The utility has sent a letter of opposition to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.
“They say they’ll be so far up the river that it won’t make a difference, but it will,” said Richard Robinson, 78.

photo by Nelson Brooke,
“There are already seven houses up for sale in our neighborhood because of this, because they’re scared they won’t be able to sell them when the mining begins,” Dianne Robinson said. “It’s just sad the university would choose to do something like this.”
Protesters originally planned to gather near the Bryant Conference Center, where the UA system’s board of trustees met Thursday. The strip mine was not on the meeting’s agenda, nor did trustees or administrators mention the protest during the meeting.
Although the Drummond Co. requested that UA advertise a lease for the land in 2007, the company didn’t respond to the request for proposals, and neither Drummond nor any of its subsidiaries have requested a lease since.
Typically, a mining company gets a permit to mine the land before approaching landowners.
UA spokeswoman Debbie Lane said she couldn’t speculate about what UA administrators would do if approached to lease the land for a strip mine.

photo by Nelson Brooke,

“If we were approached, we would carefully consider the environmental considerations,” she said.
There are no plans to lease the land right now, Lane said.
Mallory Flowers is a member of the Coalition of Alabama Students for the Environment, which organized the protest, and the president of the UA Environmental Council.
“Strip mining has a long history of negatively affecting communities, ecologies and economies,” she said. “We hope that the board of trustees will see us out here today and understand that we don’t support a strip mine on any University of Alabama property now or any time in the future.
“We hope that they’ll realize that our role as students and the largest group of shareholders on this campus does make a difference.”

Brittnie McKee, 22, is a junior at UA and said she was disappointed that the university chose to confine protesters to such a small space.

“I think it’s wrong. We shouldn’t have to have such a restricted area,” she said. “We say this country was built on free speech, but this doesn’t look like it.”
McKee said that though the UA trustees may not have seen the protest, others driving by would.
“I think it’s important that people know the dangers of wastewater runoff and strip mining,” she said. “Mining can be good for a community, but you have to look at what you end up doing to the water.”

All photos and video by
John L. Wathen,
Your Hurricane CREEKKEEPER